March 10th, 2010

never there

Henry VIII's Lost Palaces; Secrets of Egypt: Alexander's Tomb

TV night was moved to Tuesday this week to better coincide with other people's football watching (i.e. Arsenal were playing last night, looks like they did well too), and we took advantage of theoretically starting the evening earlier (no karate for J) by watching the hour & a half Time Team programme on Henry VIII's Lost Palaces. Sometimes I find Time Team programmes irritating because they have this gimmick of "omg we've only got n days how're we gonna manage this!!!", often with what seems like a very arbitrary deadline, but this programme had none of that and I think was better for it. The lost palaces are four of the palaces Henry VIII built during his reign, and they also spent a bit of time digging at Hampton Court which still (obviously) exists. They tied the programme together by giving a history of Henry VIII's reign in terms of architectural achievements (rather than dwelling much on the wives & the religion) looking at how he was using these palaces to display his wealth and magnificance as a political statement as well as just because he liked the finer things in life.

They dug up bits of Beaulieu (the first palace he built), showing that it probably was as big as later plans had suggested, and uncovering what looked like part of the nursery wing, this palace having been built around the time of Mary's birth. No digging, but a bit of looking at the area where it was, for the second palace - the one that was half-building half-tent at the Field of Cloth of Gold. Basically that was a summit meeting with the King of France, and Henry VIII and his retinue of thousands set up a very luxurious camp just outside Calais including a 300x300m two storey palace. All to impress the french with Henry's power and wealth for a couple of weeks. The stuff at Hampton Court was looking for the foundations of some towers built in the tilt yard around the time of Edward's birth, and at the bowling lane. The latter of which they found, but it seems to've been 60m long, so raising even more questions about how the Tudors played the game! Whitehall Palace is under the Whitehall district of London (unsurprisingly) so they didn't get to dig, but the original wine cellar is still there under an MoD building so we got to see that. And Nonsuch was dug up in the 1950s, so we had quite a bit of chat about that (including from the chief chap on that dig). Nonsuch was built for Edward as son & heir and the (cgi) reconstructions they showed looked like a fantasy castle.

One of the themes they were drawing out across the programme was how Henry's designs (and often they were his actual designs not those of a hired architect) were influenced by the styles and architectural theories of the Italian Renaissance. And how even after he'd broken the English church from Rome he was still influenced by this, as the focus was mostly on bringing to mind the Roman Empire - lots of stucco figures on the walls of Roman emperors and Roman gods. So the image one was supposed to takeaway was of Henry as a ruler as great as those of old. But with buildings with all the new modern conveniences (like glazed windows, even the palace in the Field of Cloth of Gold had real glass windows), and all the splendour and opulence (and colour) that the King could afford. Another theme was that Hampton Court wasn't his architectural legacy to the present, so much as the great green spaces round his palaces were - which have become the parks of London (and other places), and provide us even in the middle of our cities with green space.

After a break for cheese and biscuits (but not pickled onions, as those were sadly rather out-of-date) we watched the last of the Secrets of Egypt programmes that we had recorded. We didn't manage to record all of them and we watched them out of order, so I think this was 4 of 5 in the original series (maybe?), and was all about Alexander the Great's tomb. Sadly this felt like they'd padded it out to more of a programme than they had information for, and I would've preferred it if they'd filled the space by giving us more background on Alexander (who I know rather little about other than "conquered the known world and died young") rather than long shots of people wandering around Alexandria looking for the place they believed the tomb to be. However, the main thrust of the programme was that Alexander was buried not once, but possibly three times. Initially when Ptolemy brought his body back to Egypt he was buried at Saqqara to emphasise the legitimacy of Alexander's Pharaohship (and thus Ptolemy's) by burying him with the Pharaohs of old. Then he was moved to Alexandria and given some great shrine that no-one knows where it is any more (although we saw three different theories each with a talking head (one of which was Zahi Hawass), at length, more length than I think we had justification for as everyone seemed to clutch at straws to legitimise their own pet idea). And it's possible that after Christianity took hold in the Roman Empire (and other religions were being suppressed including the cult of Alexander) that the body of Alexander was moved again to the Valley of the Golden Mummies and "hidden" there among all the other burials but still venerated by the local people as it had been by Roman Emperors and Ptolemaic Pharaohs in the past.